Detroit has been in the news because of its looming bankruptcy. Certainly the flight of manufacturing from America’s Rust Belt, poor city management, and crime all contribute to its decline. But at the root of the city’s woes is a loss of population.
I wonder if Detroit is a window into the future. I have posted before about predictions that the total world population will top out and begin to decline within this century and maybe within a lifetime. One interesting article says “we are now exactly in the middle of perhaps the greatest demographic change in recorded history… It’s entirely possible that in little more than a generation world population will stop growing, and that our children will live to see a planet with many millions, maybe a billion, fewer people on it than there are now.”
Our nation’s municipal plans and most of our economy are based on an assumption that increasing population will drive increasing consumption. It is hard to fault people for making this assumption. Even allowing for significant set-backs like the Black Death, the human population has generally been increasing for the past 70,000 years. If the world’s population drops as predicted, everyone reading my words will live through a difficult period as the slug of elders works its way through. Posterity will then emerge into a new world.
Detroit and other shrinking American cities could be writing the script for our future. An article in Slate says “in principle the decline of Detroit could be slowed by literally making the city smaller and its population larger… This raises ‘really tricky legal-type questions’ about the permissible scope of eminent domain law… Abandoning whole areas of the city and forcibly relocating families into currently vacant structures closer to the core would be a drastic step, but… it would allow Detroit to provide much better services to a new, smaller city.”
Assumptions that held for 70,000 years are failing. Humanity is choosing a path forward, whether we realize it or not.